Op-ed – Dear social media user, mind your audience

By Eddie Ssemakula

A new-media age is upon us. Nobody no longer waits for a week to read his or her ‘letter to the editor’ in the newspaper. News no longer waits for the university-trained journalist.

Citizen journalists now break and share news and other information via their social media accounts – from wherever they are and in real time.

The new-media street is busy. It therefore shouldn’t be a surprise if your boda boda guy, laundry lady or the car mechanic sends you a message on Whatsapp or a friend request on Facebook.

However, new-media and the general ‘democratization’ of the web has come with negative consequences too.  Scroll through your social media news-feed, the mushrooming websites or blogs and you will find plenty of digital sloppiness. From poorly taken photography, verbose posts that say everything and nothing in particular, to poorly constructed sentences, intentionally unattributed posts, insults, comments that incite violence and racist slurs.

The urge to share information at breakneck speed and as frequently as possible is huge, regardless of how what is shared will be received or whether it will even be understood at all by online “friends”.

The social media sloppiness has not spared reputable organizations either. It’s common to find the last post on a company social media account made more than a year ago. Some accounts have administrators who gamble with information or grammar, while some don’t interact or respond to their followers’ questions or comments.

So, where do we go from here, especially for users in sub-Saharan Africa?

Did the Internet age find a people comfortable in the spoken rather than the written word; a people to whom it was said “if you want to hide something from a black man, put it in a book?”

Culturally, folks in this part of the world are generally non-readers, but must that subsequently result into poor content development that we see online today (and this is not to say only new media users in this part of the world are getting it wrong online)?

As a frequent social media user, I too have been a culprit to these online ‘sins’. My carelessness with punctuation, failure to accompany my blog posts with good photography, and writing blogs that are longer than necessary, are on the record.

What makes the situation worse is the apparent consensus that social media is an ‘unserious and informal’ platform, therefore sloppiness can be excused or ignored. It also explains why some organizations don’t see the need to hire competent people to manage their social media accounts.

I won’t even go into the mushrooming online news media that promise heaven in the title, deliver hell in the body, a huge photograph placed carelessly in-between text and a confusing conclusion that leaves the reader more puzzled than pissed.

Therefore, if we are to catch up with, and take advantage of the fast-paced new-media development, users should deliberately avoid sloppiness that currently characterize several online content today.

We shouldn’t let the 21st century privilege of new-media slip through our fingers, but use it effectively to disseminate information that is relevant, accurate, fair and timely. Like they say, what goes online can have repercussions offline.

Mr Ssemakula is a content producer, blogger and Project Associate – New Media, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative.

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 Editor’s Note: Do you have strong and informed opinion on current affairs in Uganda and beyond? Send a 800-word opinion to info [at] acme-ug [dot] org or hanena [at] acme-ug [org] and let your views be read.